It’s almost fall, which means store shelves are stocked with low-priced notebooks and markers and glue, et al. Soon the familiar brake hiss of school buses will be heard in neighborhoods across the country as kids head back to school, or you child will be logging into virtual school each day. Either way, there is added stress of returning to school amidst the pandemic of COVID-19.
While some kids begrudge alarm clocks and mountains of homework, they still look forward to school; to enjoying friendships and new activities. Some children, however, have a real fear of going back to school. They worry about potential bullying or even violence at school. Some have trouble coping with social pressure, while others feel overwhelmed at what they will be expected to learn. Some kids may be struggling with not being able to see their friends as much as normal. Either way, the stress is real.
If your child is feeling stressed at the thought of going back to school, here are some ways you can help:
Ask Them What’s on Their Mind
Some kids might voluntarily share any worries they have about going back to school, but many won’t. If your child is keeping mum, ask them how they’re feeling about school starting up again.
Older kids and teenagers often shut down when questioned about, well, anything really. So try to make a leading statement like, “Seeing your friends every day will be cool. But I’m guessing there is stuff that you might not be looking forward to…” Then wait for a response.
If they don’t respond, try again the next day. Eventually, they will open up to you, and when they do, the important thing is not to say the exact right thing but to simply listen, show interest and concern, and never judge.
Get Them Involved
To some children, a normal summer means a taste of freedom, of making choices for themselves, while school means little or no autonomy. This year Summer was very different from a typical Summer, but returning to school still involves less freedom during their day. To help counter this feeling, get your kids involved in decision-making at the very beginning.
Hold a “going back to school” family meeting, and make sure there are no media distractions like smartphones or TV on in the background. Discuss the year ahead, plan and set schedules for meals, homework, sports, school activities, and bedtime. Write these plans down and stick a copy on the fridge.
Talk About Bullying
Kids of all ages worry about bullying, so it’s important to bring up the topic. You could make a simple statement, something like, “Bullying is really common and it’s never OK, nor is it the victim’s fault when it happens. If anything happens to you or you see it happen to someone you know, I want you to tell me about it. We can make a plan together for how to handle it.”
Then there are those children who worry about starting school because they have issues with anxiety and depression. These children need help from a professional therapist who can uncover where the issues are coming from and offer tools and resources for coping in the real world. This applies to the child whether they are returning to school with the added pressure of masks and social distancing or starting virtual learning.
If you or a loved one is interested in exploring treatment, please contact me today. I would be happy to speak with you about how I may be able to help.